GAO Upholds Blue Origin’s Protest Over USAF Launch Solicitation

Jeff Bezos

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has upheld a pre-award protest by Blue Origin over the selection process the U.S. Air Force is using to award contracts for military launches for the years 2022 to 2027.

GAO recommended the Air Force modify the solicitation under which it planned to select two companies that would compete for launches during that period. The decision would have been based on which combination of two independently developed proposals provided the best value to the government.

In its protest, Jeff Bezos’ company argued that there was no reason to limit the awards to only two providers. It also claimed that the criteria favored two companies — SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) — that are already launching military payloads on their boosters.

SpaceX has bid using its Falcon 9 booster, which is already certified for military payloads, and the Falcon Heavy, which is currently being certified. ULA has offered its new Vulcan rocket — which has not yet flown — with the operational Atlas V launcher as a backup.

Blue Origin’s entry, New Glenn, is still under development. Northrop Grumman has bid with its OmegA rocket, which has yet to fly.

“Blue Origin alleged that several terms of the RFP [request for proposal] unduly restricted competition, are ambiguous, or are inconsistent with customary commercial practice,” Kenneth E. Patton, managing associate general counsel for procurement law at GAO, said in a statement.

Patton continued:

GAO upheld the protest, finding that the RFP’s basis for award is inconsistent with applicable procurement law and regulation, and otherwise unreasonable. According to the RFP, the government will make the two awards by decising which combination of two independently developed proposals offers the best value to the government. This methodology, as described by the agency, however, does not provide a reasonable, common basis on which offerors will be expected to compete and have their proposals evaluated. GAO recommends that the agency amend the solicitation.

Blue Origin also challenged other provisions of the solicitation. GAO found the other challenged provisions were reasonable and in accordance with applicable government alw and regulation, and therefore denied those protest allegations.

GAO made the decision under a protective order because it might contain proprietary or sensitive source selection information, Patton said. The agency has asked lawyers for the four companies to identify such information for redaction so it can issue a public decision.